Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Fulham 1 - Arsenal 3: Pressure off as Arsene Wenger's slick Gunners turn the tide - Express.co.uk

The bedraggled Arsenal manager, who has been through the emotional wringer more than a few times with frustrated Gooners demanding big investment to mount a title challenge, saw Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and company become splash hits alongside the Thames.

The uncertainty and lacklustre movement which was at the heart of last weekend's shuddering 3-1 home defeat against Aston Villa was replaced by lightning breaks which spelled danger, especially when the raiding Walcott was on the ball.

Fulham, who enjoyed some bright moments, lacked the clinical touch in front of goal which epitomised Arsenal's wholesome display.

Despite the 3-0 Champions League victory in Turkey in midweek, this was still an afternoon which could have sparked a bushfire of criticism against Wenger had the Gunners lost their way.

The club last lost back-to-back opening games 21 years go. This was not the time to repeat that.

Jack Wilshere's reward for warning that he could seek a new club if Wenger left the club was a place on the substitutes' bench at kick off.

But even without Wilshere, who was restricted to a 21-minute cameo in which he picked up a yellow card, Arsenal revelled in the monsoon conditions which saw rain cascading off the stands to give some unfortunate fans a real soaking.

On the pitch Arsenal were riding the crest of a wave, 2-0 up at half-time – and it could have been more.

It was a reality check for new Fulham chairman Shahid Khan, who had been introduced to the home supporters before the game after enjoying a victory at Sunderland the previous week. There was hope when the on loan Adel Taarabt fired in a low shot which was pushed out by Wojciech Szczesny to the lurking Damien Duff, only for the keeper to make an even better stop.

Walcott was at the hub of the sleek counter-attacking which made it a miserable afternoon for Fulham.

The Gunners could count themselves fortunate with their opening goal. Aaron Ramsey, handed another opportunity to put down a marker, fired goalwards but straight at team-mate Olivier Giroud.

The Frenchman's unintentional first touch took him clear of the last man and a prodded finish did the rest.

Kieran Gibbs should have finished off another spring-heeled burst before Podolski struck the first of his double.

When David Stockdale could only palm out Walcott's attempt, Podolski confidently drilled home from the edge of the box.

Arsenal did take their foot off the gas – but not to the same suicidal degree of a week earlier. They added a third goal, with Podolksi once again showing unerring accuracy following trickery from Santi Cazorla.

Fulham grabbed one back with Darren Bent opening his Craven Cottage account, side-footing in after Szczesny had denied Dimitar Berbatov at the near post.

So what a difference a week makes in the demanding world which is the Premier League.

Last weekend Wenger was lampooned as a modern day Scrooge. That criticism may still be valid, but he has proved over the years he can still win football matches.

On the lack of transfer activity, he said: "Maybe now there will be less media pressure because we have won but I know exactly what I want.

"We are in the market. I know everyone expects things but they will have to wait and see."

Wenger had started with six players on the offensive adding: "Every time we won the ball back we were dangerous.

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